29th March 1996 at 00:00
The sayings of St Christopher Woodhead of Phonics, No 93: "This gives me an opportunity to raise with you an issue about the language of reports," he tells his inspection underlings in a recent letter.

"As public documents these are read by many who have no direct knowledge of the school, including the press who have made and will continue to make assumptions about the validity of inspectors' judgments on the basis on the language used." Silly them.

The senior chief inspector crashes on. "Thus for example language which appears to criticise a teaching approach rather than the effectiveness of that approach as observed is likely to be read as inspectors having pre-conceived ideas about methodology. I want the objectivity of the judgments which is so fundamental to the framework and handbook to be palpably clear to all through the language of reports. Inspectors can otherwise do themselves a great disservice."

An admirable sentiment - which doubtless extends to senior chief inspectors.

This balanced and objective Christopher Woodhead cannot at all be the same Christopher Woodhead who has been getting so hot under the collar with some very distinguished, but rival, quangocrats.

The poor love apparently feels "undermined" or something to that effect. He is, they testify, an impressive sight when roused.

Britain's favourite Education and Employment Secretary, Gillian Shephard, and her sidekick, Robin Squire, have fallen victim to some most extraordinary gossip. It is put about that they are in some way not at one with the education-minded PM John Major.

Opposition education spokes-man and proud grant-maintained parent Peter Kilfoyle stirred the pot during the recent report stage of the Nursery Education and Grant-Maintained Schools Bill. He said that the owlish but wholly affable Mr Squire is "so far to the Left I am surprised he remains on the front bench."

Mr Squire must have been less than happy when, from his own benches, former Education Secretary Kenneth Baker appeared to agree, observing that Mr Squire is indeed "damp".

Mr Baker tried to ameliorate this slur with an irrelevant statement to the effect that Mr Squire is his bridge partner, and jolly good at the game too.

Next it was the turn of Labour education and employment spokesman David Blunkett who weighed in with the revelation that even the Prime Minister's policy unit has been joining in what is less of a whispering and more of a megaphone campaign. The House of Commons heard that in the view of one right-wing Tory, "the Secretary of State was so sopping wet you could shoot snipe off her."

Neither Mrs Shephard nor her colleague will find much comfort in Mr Squire's mean game of bridge.

Former education minister Michael Fallon has developed a new interest. He has become a director of a nursery in his erstwhile constituency in Darlington. The voucher-crazed right-winger is entering a second childhood, driven barmy perhaps by his failure to secure a safe Conservative seat. There can be no other explanation for involvement in such a field at present.

To the House of Commons once more, where the great and the good of further education are entertained to dinner by the law firm Eversheds. Farmer James Paice presiding (in his lesser-known capacity as education minister). The select group of guests included Ruth Gee, Roger Ward and Further Education Funding Council finance chief Roger McClure.

There was some alarm among the diners when the cheery waitress brought out the main course - beef.

Could this be an attempt to wipe out the tiresome Cinderella sector, they wondered?

Those who thought they'd seen the back of long-time educationist Harry Greenway are wrong. The education select committee has been enjoying a holiday from the former deputy head and long-standing educational quotee ("things were better in my day, etc...") But the silence is about to be broken as the Voice of Reason has been re-elevated to the new select committee on education and employment. A pleasure awaits us.

Unite, the campaign for a single teaching union, has hit a snag in the form of Nigel de Gruchy, general secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers. Unite's carefully produced broadsheet is missing the all-important contribution from Mr de Gruchy to place alongside an offering from the National Union of Teachers.

Yes, below the Nigel's proud visage is a yawning blank. The first time in history that he has been known to turn down a comment.

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